$52Million Opening Weekend, on a $5Million Budget: A MasterClass in MoneyMaking
Main Cast: Lauren Bittner, Christopher Nicholas Smith
Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
You wanna really mess with your fans? Release a trilogy of films, but have each successive film take place before the previous film. Like the Paranormal Activity franchise did. In many cases the old third-installment prequel rarely works out well and in many cases signals the death knell of a franchise (yes, I’m looking at you, Insidious). But when writer Christopher Landon and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman released Paranormal Activity 3 in 2011, the series just got stronger. It probably didn’t hurt that this turned out to be the most profitable installment of the series.
While we start with clips from the second movie (Katie brings over a box of old family videotapes to store in her sister Kristy’s basement as she and boyfriend Micah begin the moving in together process–and a year later when Kristy’s house is ransacked, it turns out these videotapes are the only thing missing), then jump back in time 18 years to 1988 and Katie’s (Chloe Csengery) birthday party. In attendance are the girls’ mother Julie (Lauren Bittner), Julie’s boyfriend, wedding videographer Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), and Julie’s mother–as well as various other random faces. Dennis is videotaping the party and he catches a few shots of young Kristy (Jessica Tyler Brown) sitting under the trampoline talking to someone who isn’t there. We later learn this is Toby, her “imaginary friend”.
Dennis’s habit of recording everything pays off one night after an earthquake when the camera catches a shot of dust falling from the ceiling and landing on what looks like an invisible humanoid figure in the empty room. At the prompting of his assistant Randy, Dennis places cameras in he and Julie’s bedroom, and one in the girls’ bedroom.
For the most part, all he catches are shots of Kristy awake at 4 in the morning, running around the house and talking to no one.
She insists, however, that she’s talking to Toby.
Strange symbols appear in the girls’ closet and Dennis sees a similar design in a book titled simple DEMONOLOGY, linked to a cult that was said to brainwash young women of childbearing age into having male sons which were then taken away and used for … well, I’m not sure what they were used for, but I have a pretty good guess it wasn’t anything good. There’s a dropped line in here from a conversation between Julie and her mother where Julie says she doesn’t want anymore kids, and her mother says something about how she should have a boy that went right over my head at first, and only on subsequent viewings connected with me.
The activity eventually reaches a breaking point for Julie in what is hands down the best scare in the entire series of Paranormal Activity movies, and the quartet decide to take refuge at Julie’s mother’s country house. Bad move, we soon learn in an incredibly tense late night search through a house that may or may not be empty. In fact, the bulk of this movie is friggin intense. I don’t recall the last movie I saw where I found myself feeling more dread in the pit of my stomach than this movie.
Finally, a Paranormal Activity movie delivers some of those scares the commercials kept promising.
Well, maybe “scares” is the wrong word. There was tension for sure, there was dread absolutely, there was that sense that I don’t want to be this close to my computer screen right now and that I should maybe turn the light on and listen through the speakers instead of the headphones, you know, just in case… but the overall sense of Paranormal Activity 3 isn’t what I’d call “scary”. It’s terrifying in that way ANY movie about ghosts has the potential to be scary, but with the way the found footage method is utilized this time, the viewer really feels like a part of the scene, especially in the quiet scenes. And it’s damned unsettling.
The cast consists of no one I’d heard of before. Bittner and Smith have plenty of credits before and after this movie between them, but they both still feel fresh-faced enough to be believable as this couple. Csengery and Brown both went on to several more parts, but at this stage had a FEW credits, and were still pretty green and it showed, especially in Brown’s case who, every time she was on screen, I kept expecting her to look directly into the camera. Which, of course, being found footage, wouldn’t have been out of the question, but I got a definite “she’s being fed her lines from off camera” vibe. To be fair, she had to me, what, 6, 7 at the time, so this isn’t a criticism. She did a good job for having almost no experience in front of a camera or in life in general.
My memories of Paranormal Activity 3 were vague at best. Before today, I hadn’t seen it since the night I saw it in the theater and that was over five years ago. I think for some reason that my opinion had been tainted by the fact most of the scenes from the trailer were nowhere in the finished film–and I even watched the extended cut today, and they’re still not in here. I think that experience left me with a certain kind of feeling toward this movie and I let it keep me away from it for too long, whereas I’ve seen the first, second, and fourth films several times now. But this one only twice. However, having just watched it again with new eyes, I can say hands down this is my favorite in the series so far. I won’t say the STORY is better, because when you look at the movies as a whole it’s all one big story. But the experience, the way the footage was captured and presented, and just that feeling of absolute dread throughout so much of the movie’s 93-minute extended run time, that’s the kind of thing I’m looking for in a movie. And Paranormal Activity 3 really delivered. Definite recommend, and if I ever get around to watching the series in its proper CHRONOLOGICAL order, I’m glad this will be the first one I get to see again.